When Cheryl Porro, VP of Agility, Innovation, and Culture, salesforce.com Technology & Products, tweeted that she “almost drove someone to tears of joy” with the Salesforce Platform, I had to know more.

How did you get started developing with Force.com?
I got started within weeks of joining salesforce.com in 2005. I joined salesforce as a quality engineering lead on the Force.com team and one of the first things I did was help evaluate test management tools for our group. We evaluated Force.com alongside products on the market. In the end, we chose to use Force.com and I helped build what we called “QAForce” during one of my first weekends on the job.

How did you get started building a Force.com app for a non-profit?
I am on the board of a non-profit school in San Francisco. During a finance committee meeting the Director of Finance mentioned her challenges around tracking some of the more complicated aspects of the budget to explain a large gap between projected and actual. I emailed her offline asking for more details. She mentioned that she was trying to track extended care with a spreadsheet and because of the tiered, sliding scale structure of the program the excel spreadsheet wasn’t really cutting it. I responded with “I think I can make you an app for that.” I knew this use case was a good match for Force.com and for my skill set.

What system were they using before Force.com?
Excel spreadsheets. The Director of Finance sent me a copy of the spreadsheet with sensitive personal data removed and I started working on the app. I was heading to Phoenix on a business trip that day and I remember being excited that the plane had wifi. In the hour and a half flight I got quite a bit of the basic structure of the app set up.

In your tweet you say that you “almost drove someone to tears of joy” – can you tell me more about that experience?
I am a consumer of the program in question and I knew that the finance office was sending me and every other parent emails when our extended care balance got low. I figured that they were doing this manually and if I could demo the email getting sent automatically when the threshold gets low it would have an impact.

My first demo was with the director of finance. She was floored for sure and mentioned that this would save them 100’s of hours over the year. But the best demo was with a member of her staff who is the one doing most of the manual work. When I demoed the app for her, she just stopped and stared. She was clearly moved. I put my hand on her shoulder and said “What are you going to do with all those hours you just got back?” And she said, “Something more important!” It was a fantastic moment for me knowing how much of an impact I could have with really not too much effort. The app is 100% declarative at this point and my goal is to keep it that way to make it easier to maintain and sustain for the non-profit. I wrote a test plan for it (and found and fixed some of my own bugs!) and wrote a user guide.

This app is built 100% declaratively (no code). Do you have a programming background? 
My education is in chemical engineering, but I moved into quality engineering in 1996 when things were really starting to pick up. I picked up some coding skills in college, but was mostly self taught.  I had the chops to code this app programmatically, but the declarative approach meets all of their requirements.

What’s next for you and the school?
This is just beginning. We need to get the app into use which we are hoping to do this week. I also helped the non-profit apply for and receive 10 free non-profit licenses and I am certain we will find more use cases that are a good fit.

Are you going to Dreamforce? If so, what are you looking forward to most?
Of course! I love going to Dreamforce. For me it’s like wrapping up a couple of milestone birthdays, Christmas, and Halloween into one and jamming it into a single, amazing, fun-filled week. As a salesforce employee it’s one of the best times of the year. We get to get to know our customers, learn more about our products, and have a great time while doing it. I always try to spend some time in the Dev Zone either volunteering or sitting in some sessions.

Editor’s Note: Cheryl humbly failed to mention that she will be facilitating an awesome panel about Force.com Developer career growth.  Check it out here (link is to the Dreamforce org, registration required): Force.com Careers: How Do I Get There From Here?

If this story moved you the way it moved me, consider making an impact of your own at one of the 20,000+ non-profits that use the Salesforce Platform by volunteering your skills with Taproot Foundation,NPower Community CorpsCatchafire or SocialCoding4Good. Also, if you are attending Dreamforce, look in the app for the Pledge Pro Bono campaign and you can make a pledge to perform pro bono service. Happiness is just a click (and maybe a little code) away!

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